It’s Latina Equal Pay Day—Here’s Why the Gender Wage Gap Is a Wellness Issue

Photo: Getty/Tom Werner
Equal Pay Day marks the day when the average women's salary finally catches up to the average men's salary. In the U.S., that day usually happens in April of the following year. In 2019, it was April 19. That means it took until April 19, 2019—an extra three and a half months—for women to earn what men made in all of 2018. Wowza.

But like many issues that have to deal with gender, the wage gap is compounded by other factors. One of those big factors? Race. Because when all women are lumped together, Equal Pay Day lands on April 19, but when separated into groups, the Latina Equal Pay Day is nearly seven months later, and is the widest gap in relation to white, non-Latinx men. This year, the Latina Equal Pay Day lands on November 20. In other words, Latinas are the last group among Asian, white, black, and indigenous populations to meet the pay equity from the previous year when comparing to white, non-Latinx men.

Latinas make 54 cents on the white men’s dollar. Translation? On average, Latinas are paid 46 percent less than white men. (And 31 percent less than white women.) There are, of course, a variety of factors that contribute to the wider gap. Many Latinas work in lower-paying jobs. Many Latinas work in the service industry (which is lower-paying and often relies on tips). Many Latinx workers are employed in industries that have hourly wages and don’t have access to paid leave or flexible schedules. There's the fact that this stat also looks at a group that includes immigrant populations, which are wholly making less than average. And so on…

But the truth is, race and gender have always worked in collusion to keep women of color out of higher-earning jobs and outside of opportunities for advancement. In fact, even within the highest-paid occupations for Latinas, the wage gap persists. The median pay for Latina chief executives is $71,361 per year, compared to median pay of $108,953 for white, non-Latinx men. Latina computer scientists are typically paid $61,781 per year, compared to $86,134 for white, non-Latinx men. Even when we control for things like education, years of experience, location, and more—the gap doesn’t change that dramatically. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Latina workers are still paid only 66 cents on the dollar relative to white men when such factors are taken into account.

We need to stop treating the wage gap as just a financial issue

But this isn’t just a financial issue. This is a wellness issue. As we work to understand the impact of finances on one’s well-being, we've begun to reconcile how they are inextricably linked. In what ways? To start, more than half of Latinas are the breadwinners for their families. Yes, more than half. How they provide for their families—from doctor’s visits to the foods that they eat—is impacted by the very (few) dollars they earn in comparison to others.

“Latinas are affected by the wage gap in many ways, as it continues to affect more than one generation,” says Natalie Torres-Haddad, MPA and founder of Financially Savvy Latina. "Many Latinas are not just the breadwinners in their families, especially if it’s a single income earner for a family, but we also give back to our families that need the help—either here [in the U.S.] or in other countries."

That element is what is overlooked the most—the cultural component. Latinx tend to have deep, connected relationships with their extended families, and are taught to put family first. This often translates into any bit of money going to members who might be down and out or have extenuating circumstances (like caring for elderly members). In fact, Latinx caregivers give more time caregiving than their white counterparts, and are more likely to suffer from financial strain and emotional stress as a consequence of the high number of hours spent providing unpaid caregiving support. Financial upward mobility is thwarted by not being able to hire care, and the distribution of the (little) money earned.

The pay gap also affects mental health. Even as Latinas make their way in the workforce, they're likely to encounter microaggressions, or common subtle and brief communications, that can be done unconsciously, that denote the Latina's perceived otherness (and often, unworthiness). (A common microaggression towards Latinas might be a comment on their great English—"you speak so well!"—even if they are primary English speakers.) They might have to navigate a space in which they could be made to feel like they're just lucky to be there. They’re more likely to suffer from a different type of burnout: representation burnout, where people in marginalized groups (including LGBTQ+ and differently-abled) have to do more emotional and pragmatic labor, based on the fact that they have to navigate a system as a minority and become the ipso facto representative for their community—even if that means taking on extra job components for no extra pay (such as sensitivity reading in media companies or helping HR recruit diverse teams in every industry).

“The real issue is the mental health toll [the wage gap] takes on not just the Latina, but on her family," says Torres-Haddad. How does one reconcile the need to be seen and heard (for promotions, advancement, and recognition), with the desire to not draw too much attention to themselves, and not be seen as "too aggressive"? That comes not only from outside factors, but cultural factors as well: "In the [Latinx] community, one usually hears be grateful for whatever you can get and to not to ask for more," says Torres-Haddad. All these decisions and emotional or mental hurdles are exhausting and stressful.

"Not to mention, less money means less help in medical costs, daycare, housekeeping help, and not being able to further their education [to advance into other jobs and higher-paying fields]," adds Torres-Haddad. "When it comes to earning degrees, Latinas earning a doctorate [account for] less than one percent [of those earning a doctorate] in the U.S., and account for less than four percent of those earning a Masters. (As we know, advanced degrees help close the gap.)

The gender gap is a persistent issue, but for marginalized groups, it’s even more trying—the gap is wider, and the effects, you could argue, are more far-reaching. Which is why we must work to understand it on a larger scale, rally against systemic processes that keep marginalized women in particular down, and—if you’re a Latina or in a marginalized group—learn to advocate for yourself.

Here's what Tory Burch has to say about the gender pay gap, and why it needs to end. Plus, why self-care isn't the end solve for many women.

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